Tag Archives: stadiums

Power Ranking the 2014 FIFA World Cup Stadiums

With the World Cup just around the corner, excitement is well and truly brewing. Construction workers in Brazil are frantically putting the finishing touches to a stellar lineup of stadiums ready to host fans the world over for a month.

There have been many obstacles along the way, notably the well-publicized construction delays that have led to criticism directly from FIFA, but it looks as if the construction will be carried over the line in time for the tournament—just.

Here we rank the 12 World Cup stadiums this summer, based on a number of criteria: geographical location, game significance, structural features and importance to the community.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

All stadium information provided by the World Cup Portal, the official Brazilian Federal Government website on the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

Jose Medeiros/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal is last on our list, and its geographical location is a major reason behind its low ranking: There is no team in the state that plays in Brazil’s top football division, making this 41,390-seater a likely candidate to become a white elephant after the World Cup.

After the tournament, the arena will “turn into a new leisure venue for locals,” according to the World Cup Portal, which goes to show just how unimportant this stadium location was in the first place.

 

Game Significance

That the ground will only host four group stage matches doesn’t help its ranking on our list either.

While Chile-Australia, Russia-South Korea, Nigeria-Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan-Colombia are all interesting matchups in their own right, the fact that none of the big boys will be on show in the Arena Pantanal says it all about its significance.

 

Structural Features

Since it is a brand-new stadium for the World Cup, modern architectural features and fan-friendly accessibility factors do redeem the Arena Pantanal somewhat.

It has 90,000 square meters of promenade surrounding it, while 20 entrances, 79 turnstiles, 20 staircases and 12 elevators will provide fans a spacious environment to enter and exit the stadium.

There are also 32 food kiosks, three restaurants, 97 boxes and 66 lavatories, making it a fan-centric modern structure.

 

Importance to the Community

Legacy inside and outside of football is very much part of FIFA’s lexicon when it comes to hosting World Cups across the world.

In the Arena Pantanal’s case, since there is no local first-tier team that will be able to make use of such a grandiose new construction project, there is no choice but for the stadium to turn into a multi-purpose venue after the tournament.

Whether that is “important” to the local community or simply a convenient reason for Cuiaba to be a host city is entirely up to you.

 

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

Jose Zamith/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Arena da Amazonia is another stadium whose geographical location just doesn’t help itself.

Sure, you can argue that hosting a World Cup match so close to the Amazon makes for an exotic experience, but the traffic and the climate there—not to the mention the sheer distance from everywhere else—makes Manaus a royal pain of a venue.

There’s a local adage that goes: “There are two seasons in Manaus—summer and hell.” And there’s a whole article on CBS News (and other various news outlets) on just how challenging the Manaus location is.

 

Game Significance

The most high-profile match here is Group D’s clash between England and Italy—not that Roy Hodgson and his team will enjoy traveling such a long distance for an already tough match on paper.

Manaus was never going to host more than the standard four group-stage games: It would have presented too much of a logistical challenge otherwise.

 

Structural Features

What you can’t deny is the spectacle that the Arena da Amazonia is as an architectural feat. The 45,500-seater takes inspiration from an “indigenous straw basket, full of Brazilian fruit,” according to the World Cup Portal, which is its most distinct feature.

Seven colors in various tones of yellow, orange and red are represented in the stadium seats, while the stadium facade itself looks like a basket from the X-shaped metal modules. (We considered moving it up our rankings because of these unique features.)

 

Importance to the Community

Yet for all of its vibrant colors, the Manaus area really doesn’t have a pressing need for a state-of-the-art new football stadium, not least because of the transportation problems the city will likely encounter for its matches.

Here‘s a revealing statement from the Telegraph that shows just how “important” the stadium will be:

There has been some speculation that it might be used as a prison after the World Cup to relieve overcrowding elsewhere.

Legacy indeed.

 

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

Alexandre Carnieri/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Outside of sports, Curitiba has long been recognized for its central role in Brazilian economics; indeed, it was awarded the Global Sustainable City Award in 2010, which recognized the city’s sustainable urban development.

The Arena da Baixada finds itself in one of the most desirable cities in Brazil.

 

Game Significance

Despite its ideal location, the Arena da Baixada plays host to a disappointing four matches this summer, and none of the fixtures on show in Curitiba is a mouthwatering clash.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 43,000, the Arena da Baixada is a respectable arena that is also the home stadium of Atletico Paranaense, who also own and operate it.

Rising like a concrete box in the middle of the city, the Arena is a structurally impressive stadium: Its ground facade is almost see-through, meaning that people outside of the stadium are able to look inside towards the ground.

The 48 kiosks and four restaurants for food, as well as the 884 underground indoor parking spaces, make it a strong contender in the accessibility category.

 

Importance to the Community

Construction delays and failure to meet the agreed FIFA timeline is one of the reasons the Arena da Baixada ranks so low here. As of May 15, it was one of three World Cup stadiums yet to be completed, according to Yahoo!, while a test match in mid-May saw bulldozers parked outside with construction material piled up.

Curitiba was nearly excluded from the tournament outright because of “chronic delays that were caused mostly by financial shortcomings.” Certainly not encouraging.

 

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

Gabriel Heusi/Associated Press

Geographical Location

In terms of location, the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre is arguably one of the most fitting venues in Brazil to hold World Cup matches. The city features one of the most intense cross-town rivalries in Brazilian football—Internacional and Gremio.

It is also the southernmost stadium out of all 12, which means that colder temperatures are likely.

 

Game Significance

With five matches to host, the Estadio Beira-Rio slightly outperforms its predecessors on this list. France, the Netherlands and Argentina are among the high-profile teams to play their group stages matches in Porto Alegre, while it is also set to host a round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

Unlike the stadiums at Cuiaba and Manaus, the Estadio Beira-Rio is not a completely new structure; rather, the redeveloped design accentuates the already striking facade to present one of the most memorable out of the 12.

It also hosts a respectable 50,000 seats, and after redevelopment, the stands have been moved closer to the pitch for a better fan experience. The 22 bars and snack bars and the 44 shops will add to a few good days out in Porto Alegre.

 

Importance to the Community

With football such a prominent part of the Porto Alegre community, the Estadio Beira-Rio commands an even more premium location, on the banks of the Guaiba River and extremely accessible from the main hotels and the airport.

The only major piece of negative news is that as recently as this March, its mayor claimed that it might drop out of the World Cup because of insufficient funding (via the BBC). For such a football-mad city, that is quite unbelievable.

 

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

David Campbell/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Known as the capital of happiness in Brazil, Salvador is host to the annual Central do Carnaval, and it seems natural to bring the World Cup to a city with a party atmosphere.

Situated close to the seaside, the Arena Fonte Nova enjoys a spectacular view and stands out as a space-age construction amid buildings of modest height in a bustling city.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Fonte Nova will host six matches this summer, with four group matches (featuring such heavyweights as Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and France), a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 55,000, Salvador’s stadium is one of the most impressive constructions to feature this summer. Having been constructed for the Confederations Cup, the Arena Fonte Nova has a distinctive “horseshoe” area that will support 5,000 removable seats for the tournament only.

Perhaps worth noting is the fact that it was the first to secure a naming rights agreement among the 12 World Cup stadiums, with the Brazilian brewery Itaipava signing a sponsorship deal worth $100 million lasting until 2023.

Construction faults led to blind spots from several areas inside the stadium during its inaugural match, however, while heavy rain caused a section of the roof to collapse in May 2013, affecting this otherwise remarkable stadium’s ranking on our list due to safety issues.

 

Importance to the Community

Salvador’s central role in Brazilian entertainment will likely have been a big factor behind the decision to host World Cup matches in the city, while there are already longer-term plans for the stadium after this summer: It will be one of the venues used for the football competition in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

Fabio Lima/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Fortazela is one of three major cities in Brazil’s north-east alongside Recife and Salvador, both of which are also World Cup host cities this summer.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Castelao will play host to six matches this summer, including four group-stage matches, a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

Besides featuring crowd favorites such as Uruguay, Germany and Ivory Coast, Fortaleza will also see the Brazilian national team play on home soil in a Group A game against Mexico, which is sure to be a spectacle.

 

Structural Features

The Arena Castelao seats an impressive 63,903 people and has been refurbished to make the World Cup this summer.

An interesting architectural feature is its glass skin, which reduces heat inside the stadium. Its huge roof is also coated with a material that “allows for the circulation of air in the stadium,” and “provides soundproofing and ideal shade for television broadcasting.”

 

Importance to the Community

Surprisingly, the Arena Castelao has hosted two large-scale and high-profile religious events. In 1980, Pope John Paul II brought 120,000 followers to the celebrations of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress at the stadium.

In 1995, 50,000 followers gathered for the farewell of Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, the archbishop of Fortaleza, confirming the stadium (then yet to be redeveloped) as an important center-piece in its citizens’ lives.

 

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

Ana Araujo/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Itaipava Arena Pernambuco is situated in the western suburbs of the Recife metropolitan area, one of the most important geographic locations in all of Brazil.

Recife itself is known as the Brazilian Venice, what with the rivers, small islands and more than 50 bridges found in its city center. Its famous 8km Boa Viagem Beach adds to its overall allure as an important cultural and leisure destination.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Pernambuco’s fixture list isn’t terribly impressive: Apart from four group-stage games that may throw up a few interesting twists in the World Cup, it will only host an additional round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

The seating capacity of the Arena is 46,000 and it’s a standard modern stadium designed to be accessible and convertible. There are plans for it to be used as a venue for concerts, conventions and other events after the World Cup.

The strong emphasis on sustainability impressed us. A solar power plant implemented in the stadium will generate 1MW of installed capacity and will be able to meet the average consumption of 6,000 people when the venue is not filled. Impressive.

 

Importance to the Community

One of the things that attracted us to Recife was its potential for a strong and positive legacy after the World Cup. According to the World Cup Portal, the Pernambuco represents the beginning of a new urban center named the “World Cup City,” a 242-hectare area that “aims to bring together housing, offices, educational institutions and leisure areas.”

The completed area will include a university campus, a hotel and convention center with other commercial, residential and entertainment complexes, and is predicted to generated 10,000 direct jobs until 2024. A noble effort if it ends up going through.

 

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

Jobson Galdino/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Natal is well-known for its tourist attractions, with its natural scenic landscapes, beaches, historical monuments and the famous Carnatal, giving the city a unique aura.

The Arena das Dunas finished construction in January 2014, replacing the old Machadao football stadium that was demolished in 2011 to make way for the new project.

 

Game Significance

For a stadium of such breathtaking beauty, it is a travesty that it will only host one truly high-profile match (Italy vs. Uruguay in Group D) among its slated lineup of four group-stage matches.

 

Structural Features

Probably one of the most striking and visually stunning stadiums in World Cup history, the 42,000-seat Arena das Dunas features a facade and roof made up of 20 petal-shaped modules, “designed to be higher on one of the stadium’s side, giving the impression that sand dunes—common in the region—are moving,” according to the World Cup Portal.

Sustainability, now a key element in all stadium construction, also plays an important role in Natal’s World Cup stadium: Its roof captures rainwater, up to 3,000 cubic meters of which may be reused in its lavatories and for pitch irrigation.

 

Importance to the Community

Just like Recife project, the Arena das Dunas is planned to be the center of an exciting new district, featuring a shopping center, commercial buildings, world-class hotels and even an artificial lake.

 

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

Tomas Faquini/Associated Press

Geographical Location

There aren’t many locations more high profile than a capital city, and that’s exactly what Brasilia is. A relatively recently planned and developed city, Brasilia provided a more central location for a capital city than Rio de Janeiro.

Given its political importance, Brasilia naturally pays less attention to football. Yet the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is still a force to be reckoned with.

 

Game Significance

The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha will live up to its capital-city billing and play host to seven matches this summer: four group-stage games, in addition to a round-of-16 match, a quarterfinal and the third-place match.

Out of the four group-stage matches, Colombia vs. Ivory Coast and Portugal vs. Ghana will provide two interesting spectacles.

 

Structural Features

Named after legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha, the stadium is one of the most easily recognizable in Brazil and hosts a remarkable 71,000 people, making it the perfect venue for high-profile matches in the World Cup this summer.

Its distinctive UFO-like design, which looks like a narrow bowl supported by a multitude of columns around the side, adds to the myth that surrounds one of the most iconic venues in world football.

 

Importance to the Community

Unfortunately, this is where the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha loses out. Not only will football continue to play second fiddle to politics, but the stadium itself will court controversy due to the sheer amount of money invested in it.

According to this AP story, fraudulent billing has led to a huge increase in building cost: At $900 million, it is now the second-most expensive stadium in the world, despite there being no major professional team in Brasilia. Authorities will need to navigate the political minefield or risk having the first major demonstrations start right under their noses.

 

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

Marcus Desimoni/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Estadio Mineirao is the largest football stadium in the state of Minas Gerais, where Belo Horizonte is its most populous city.

Its bustling activity makes it one of the most important cities in the south-eastern region of Brazil, while its urban planning—inspired by that of Washington, D.C.—has won international accolades for urban revitalization and food security.

 

Game Significance

Now we’re getting right into the thick of the action. Besides hosting four group games, Belo Horizonte will also feature a round-of-16 match and a semifinal, making it one of the most high-profile venues in the World Cup.

 

Structural Features

The Estadio Mineirao first opened back in 1965, making it one of Brazil’s most iconic football stadiums in its long and illustrious history. Its post-refurbishment 62,160 seats make it one of the continent’s largest, while its distinctive circular, Coliseum-like structure make it one of the most recognizable venues in South America.

Once again, sustainability is the hip word of the moment: 90 percent of the rubble produced by the building site was reused, according to the World Cup Portal, while a rooftop solar power plant converts enough energy to cater to the demand of 1,200 medium-sized households. Not a bad feat at all.

 

Importance to the Community

By way of sheer longevity, the Estadio Mineirao has become an institution in the minds of the Brazilian football public.

The promenade area outside the stadium itself will be used as a social space to host events alongside leisure, cultural and sporting events staged inside the arena.

 

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

Mauricio Simonetti/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The home stadium of Brazilian powerhouse Corinthians will be called Arena de Sao Paulo during the World Cup.

The city of Sao Paulo itself is well-known: It is the largest city in Brazil and plays a huge role in the country’s commercial, financial and entertainment activity.

 

Game Significance

Probably the second-most important stadium in terms of game significance this summer, the Arena de Sao Paulo will host four group games, including the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, as well as other heavy-hitters such as Uruguay vs. England, the Netherlands vs. Chile and South Korea vs. Belgium.

It will also host a round-of-16 match, as well as a semifinal.

 

Structural Features

For a stadium of such high profile and importance, the Arena de Sao Paulo actually has a surprisingly low standard capacity. It was only to meet the FIFA requirements for an opening-match stadium that 21,200 removable seats were added to form the current 68,000-seat capacity.

Structurally, it is one of the most impressive World Cup stadiums on show this summer. The stadium complex will feature a pedestrian mall as well as other spectacles such as a performance fountain and large gardens.

Stadium acoustics were also a key consideration during the planning and building of the stadium—it will duplicate the current noise level supporters create during games—while, as in several other host stadiums, rainwater reusability is a key sustainability feature.

The Sao Paulo project was awarded the Best Commercial Project and the Best Overall Project awards in the 2011 Grande Premio de Arquitetura Corporativa.

 

Importance to the Community

Public accessibility and capacity management are two of the most impressive features of the Arena de Sao Paulo.

Express trains will connect to the stadium during the World Cup, linking it to the city center in just 20 minutes, according to FIFA.com, while the metro and train stations have the capacity to handle 100,000 passengers an hour.

 

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio de Janeiro)

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio De Janeiro)

Daniel Basil/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Is it any surprise that the most high-profile stadium in Brazil will host the most-profile match in the World Cup this summer in its most high-profile city?

Rio de Janeiro is arguably Brazil’s most famous city—and deservedly so, given its iconic status in both tourism and popular culture. It’s known for its natural settings and historical monuments, while its beaches and carnival atmosphere only add to the cultural significance of the city.

 

Game Significance

You can’t get any bigger than this. Forget that the titular Group B clash between Spain and Chile will take place at the Estadio do Maracana; forget that six other matches will take place; the Maracana will host the final, which might very well feature the home nation.

 

Structural Features

Having first opened in 1950, the Maracana is probably the arena most steeped in Brazilian football tradition out of all the 12 World Cup stadiums, making it the perfect choice to host the showpiece event of the whole tournament.

A major reconstruction project was undertaken to prepare for the 2014 World Cup: A new one-tier seating bowl, featuring yellow, blue and white seats alongside the green pitch make up the Brazilian national colors, while a new fiberglass roof was installed.

 

Importance to the Community

To see the cultural importance of the Maracana to the Brazilian public, see the number of non-World Cup events that take place at the stadium.

Besides the record-breaking concerts put on by the likes of Paul McCartney and Madonna, the Maracana will also host both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Anfield Redevelopment Underlines Liverpool’s Financial Rejuvenation Under FSG

Ahead of a crucial Premier League title decider against Chelsea this Sunday, Liverpool this week announced their expansion plans for Anfield, while managing director Ian Ayre today credited, via the Telegraph, the role of current owners John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group in their financial rejuvenation.

Both the Anfield redevelopment announcement and the revelations behind the dire financial situation at Liverpool have not only boosted the feel-good factor around the club, who are five points clear in the Premier League and poised to win their first league title in 24 years, but also highlighted just how important FSG have been in their resurrection.

The Reds now seem a stark contrast to what they were just a few years ago, when Tom Hicks and George Gillett were in constant internal battles with then-manager Rafael Benitez and released plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park that got nowhere, a symbol of their failed reign that disillusioned supporters.

John W. Henry led FSG’s takeover in 2010, which saved the club from administration and that has subsequently transformed Liverpool’s fortunes on and off the pitch.

As Ayre claims that “the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now,” let’s look at just how Liverpool have been rejuvenated financially under the reign of Henry and FSG—and whether this can be sustained going forward.

 

 

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesCorporatization of Liverpool as a Global Business

It’s easy to say we were 10 years into a stadium move and it’s about time we are back in the Champions League, but if you think about where we were financially, just because you’re Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there. There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners, so it’s an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are today. That is testament to the people who invested in it and worked on getting us back there.

Ian Ayre’s proud proclamations of the FSG-led transformation, dipped in bitter memories of the Hicks and Gillett reign, will reverberate around Anfield as a resounding endorsement of the way John W. Henry has run his sports empire.

Joshua Green of Bloomberg.com has encapsulated Henry’s reign at Major League Baseball club Boston Red Sox in a wonderfully revealing article on their baseball dynasty, and similar principles from Henry’s financial and business background have been applied to Liverpool.

The inevitable truth in the sports world these days is that it is becoming more and more of a global business, and Liverpool have, in many aspects, finally caught on.

When looking at models for sustainable growth in world football, perhaps Arsenal is always the go-to club given the building of their new Emirates Stadium and the well-known financial management of Arsene Wenger, but it’s no surprise that Ian Herbert’s column for the Independent draws comparisons with “the kind of machine that the Glazer family have developed at Old Trafford.”

That Manchester United have set up offices around the globe to push their marketing and sponsorship efforts is indicative of their aggressive expansion as a corporation; Herbert writes that their “far-sighted establishment of regional and global corporate sponsorship deals began well over a decade ago.”

This has only recently surfaced at Anfield—though, of course, it is a case of better late than never—with all kinds of backroom appointments boasting titles we would otherwise associate with financial organizations and the business world in general.

Liverpool, who have for years been in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League rankings despite missing out on the Champions League, have finally gotten in the sponsorship act and have begun raking in the millions as a result of the commercial push. Their announcement this week of a partnership with US restaurant chain Subway, per the Liverpool Echo, is only the latest chapter in their fast-growing business empire.

 

 

Liverpool FC/Getty ImagesAnfield Redevelopment: Finally Done Right?

When looking to expand the financial income of football clubs, the issue of stadiums will always come into the equation.

After all, gate receipts was the reason behind Arsenal’s decision to move from Highbury to a new stadium, and Manchester United, having expanded Old Trafford over the years, have been raking in a minimum of £3 million every home match since its capacity has come close to 76,000, per ESPNFC.

So it’s no surprise that much has been made over Liverpool’s next step in terms of their stadium: The question was always whether to develop the iconic Anfield, which would have a capacity ceiling due to construction constraints, or to move into their neighboring Stanley Park, which would require massive payments that might hamper their other financial activity, much as Arsene Wenger has experienced.

This Mirror Football article, in light of the new stadium redevelopment announcements, revisited the failed and widely mocked plans for a 60,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park, which were first suggested in 2002 and then revisited in the Hicks and Gillett reign. They promised a “spade in the ground” within 60 days of their 2007 acquisition of Liverpool, but proved unable to finance the construction project.

By contrast, the £150 million redevelopment currently mooted will cost less than a third of the Stanley Park plans, and will likely eventually take the total seating capacity to 58,000 after expanding two main stands, according to Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.

Surrounding all the recent fanfare has been the club’s shady policy of “buying up houses around the stadium and leaving them empty, driving the local area into dreadful decline” since the 1990s, which David Conn has uncovered in his revealing Guardian column.

The club apparently “used an agency to approach some residents, while some houses were bought by third parties then sold on quickly to the club. That left residents with the belief…that Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low,” a tactic that has not gone down well with local residents.

But as Ayre and the club have published their plans publicly and also apparently been in dialogue with the local councils and residents with their Anfield redevelopment plans, the chance is there for FSG and the current hierarchy to redeem errors made in years past and commit to a bright future for the local area and the local community.

The public consultation of fans’ opinions on the Anfield redevelopment, through a public online survey on their official website, is a good start. The right opportunity has finally arrived for FSG to leave a positive legacy in the city of Liverpool, far beyond just bringing the football club back in the green.

 

 

Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesLooking Ahead to a Promising Future

This week’s announcement of the Subway partnership is the latest sponsorship arrangement Liverpool Football Club have landed in 2014 alone: The likes of Vauxhall and Dunkin’ Donuts all joined the Liverpool corporate partner list this calendar year.

Following the money-spinning and multi-year deals with Standard Chartered Bank and Garuda Indonesia, an airline, Liverpool may even solicit financing for the expansion of the Main Stand via a “lucrative naming rights deal with a major sponsor,” according to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. Following Macron’s naming-rights announcement with Championship club Bolton Wanderers, announced this week as well via BBC Sport, naming rights may well and truly have entered the English football mainstream—Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium are but two famous examples.

For Liverpool, it’s been a story of financial rejuvenation, underlined by Ayre’s comments regarding the long and difficult journey of infrastructure-building at the club since FSG’s takeover:

When I came here seven or eight years ago, there were all these stories of the club shop being closed the day after the [2005] Champions League final [win over AC Milan in Istanbul], and only having a couple of sponsors. Over a long period of time, we have been trying to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure that services a great club like Liverpool.

As the club look to cash in on their successes in the Premier League this season—they confirmed, with their win over Norwich City last Sunday, a lucrative return to the Champions League next season—and continue to bear the fruits of their commercial exploits, their highest-ever annual turnover of £206.1 million this past year will surely be eclipsed considerably in a year’s time.

Add to that the image of the club as a young and energetic force, spearheaded by a visionary young manager in Brendan Rodgers and featuring a host of young stars in the team, as well as the rejuvenated Anfield stadium and surrounding area—confirmed to go through this time—and you have, for the first time in many a season, a healthy outlook for Liverpool Football Club for years to come.

To think that the Reds were “seconds from disaster” before John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group swooped in for their rescue act.

What a roller coaster it’s been—and long may it continue.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

State of Brazil 2014: Where Do Things Stand in World Cup Host Nation Right Now?

During Brazil’s 5-0 hammering of South Africa in Johannesburg in an international friendly on Wednesday, more than just a footballing spectacle was on show.

Sure, Neymar’s hat-trick—the Barcelona star has hit 30 goals in just 47 caps—inspired the Selecao to a resounding victory over the hosts. And the Samba stars even hit the headlines after the match for all the right PR reasons when they elected to pose and celebrate a young pitch invader, as reported by the Daily Mail.

But this prestige friendly was also the meeting between the most recent World Cup host and the current incumbent, played at Soccer City, the venue of the 2010 final, where Spain beat the Netherlands to win their first-ever World Cup.

It was a passing of the baton—well, of sorts.

In an ideal world, from both FIFA’s perspective and surely the Brazilian Football Association’s, Brazil’s resounding victory would also have represented an analogous reflection of the upcoming World Cup in relation to 2010’s, with Brazilian excellence, preparation and execution not just limited to a five-star performance on the pitch.

In an ideal world, the joy and happiness we saw on the faces of the Brazilian team when they celebrated their victory (and the young pitch invader) would not only be repeated as they take to the stage to win their sixth World Cup on home soil in July, but for generations to come as they soak in the legacy of the “best World Cup ever.”

And in an ideal world, the sense of satisfaction in the Brazilian fans at Soccer City and watching on television at home would precede a sense of immense pride to be realized this summer while they watched a spectacle unfold at home, before they bid farewell to the hordes of tourists who will have created an economic boon for them to enjoy.

But where do things stand right now in the host nation? As we discuss below, things are not quite as rosy as they should be. Let’s look at how Brazil is faring, from different angles.

 

 

Gallo Images/Getty ImagesThe team: Ready to pounce

When it comes to matters on the pitch, the Brazil national team seem more than ready to take their chance on home soil this summer.

While a 5-0 drubbing of South Africa, their biggest ever loss at home, was an impressive achievement, and once again highlighted Neymar’s growing stature in world football and importance to his country’s footballing hopes, an arguably more symbolic result than took place last summer.

Brazil’s 3-0 defeat of World Cup champions Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup final, itself a dress rehearsal for this summer’s World Cup, was courtesy of a match-winning performance by Neymar(and two goals from Fred), in an all-round spectacular performance. They inflicted upon Spain their first defeat in 29 competitive matches.

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s starting XI on Wednesday featured just two changes from his Confederations Cup final win last summer. WithNeymar having prospered since his move to Barcelona, the resurgence of Fernandinho at Manchester City and the impressive rise of Oscar at Chelsea, this is a Brazil side as workmanlike as it is flamboyant.

As Brazil prepare to welcome the visit of 31 other teams this summer, they will also revel in the fact that their opponents face a grueling match schedule, made all the more difficult because of the weather and traveling and exacerbated by the hot afternoon kickoff times.

This ESPNFC article lists all the obstacles that Brazil’s rivals will be up against: With the weather conditions of six cities classed as “stifling”—four of them “oppressive”—and high temperatures of over 31 degrees Celsius, the cross-country coverage will ensure startling differences between stadiums and locations.

The sheer largeness of the country means that some participating teams will face extremely tiring travel schedules. The USA team, for example, will travel a total of 8,800 miles for three of their group stage games, spending at least 35 hours commuting in total, while all matches will be played in “oppressive” conditions.

Of course, not all teams face such a demanding schedule, but it’s worth remembering that South American teams generally have a better record in World Cups hosted in the same region: All seven World Cups played in the Americas have crowned South American winners.

The only silver lining for other pretenders is that Brazil only finished as runners-up the last time they hosted a World Cup at home.

 

 

Friedemann Vogel/Getty ImagesThe logistics: Another last-minute dash

It seems as if World Cups, despite the spectacle they may be, always involve last-minute madness.

If we thought South Africa’s preparations in the final months leading up to their tournament weren’t a big enough alarm—as FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke claimed in February 2010 (via Sky)—the situation this year is apparently even worse.

Just this January, FIFA President Sepp Blatter told the Telegraph:

Brazil just found out what [the scale of work] means and has started work much too late. No country has been so far behind in preparations since I had been at FIFA, even though it is the only nation which has had so much time—seven years—in which to prepare.

Not that his public criticism had had the desired effects. Valcke’s latest update in early March reflected the current state of chaos in Brazil’s preparations, as they “are working in conditions where the cement is not even dry,” and all IT and telecommunications systems hadn’t been installed, according to SportBusiness.com.

This was a long time coming.

A grand total of six stadiums, in Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Cuiaba, PortoAlegre, Natal and Manaus, had missed a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013 set by FIFA to allow a suitable preparation window ahead of the summer’s matches.

Since then, Curitiba has flirted with danger, coming close in February to being dropped for the tournament altogether, according to BBC Sport, only for local organizers to bring in hundreds of extra workers to meet building requirements and ultimately earn a FIFA reprieve.

Now Sao Paulo, which is set to host the opening game, might not be ready to hand its stadium over until May, a month before the tournament kicks off on June 12, according to BBC Sport.

Valcke, understandably, is unimpressed: According to theSportBusiness.com article above, he has had more harsh words regarding Brazil’s lax preparations:

I am not a World Cup specialist, but I will say this has not been easy for sure. We are almost at 100 days before the first game starts in a stadium in Sao Paulo which is still not ready and won’t be ready until May 15.

A glaring example of Brazil’s last-minute tendencies was the embarrassing fiasco over the preparation of the Maracana stadium for a high-profile friendly match between Brazil and England, supposedly to mark its grand reopening. Due to concerns over its structural readiness, and thus supporter safety, judicial order suspended the match a few days before it was schedule to take place, according to the Guardian.

The match ultimately resumed and ended in a 2-2 draw, but the warning signs were already there.

 

 

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe politics: The biggest headache of them all

If FIFA have already suffered enough headaches because of the disorganization in Brazil’s preparations, they’re about to experience even more—and this time the Brazilian FA could feel the heat as well.

It would’ve been all well and good if the issues that were raised before the Brazil-England friendly preceded an ultimately grand spectacle in the Confederations Cup.

But while Brazil’s victory over Spain said plenty about their ambitions to lift their sixth World Cup this year, what happened off the pitch among the local supporters were almost inevitable—yet surprising in equal measure.

The BBC reported that protesters clashed with police during the final, as demonstrations sparked by transport fare rises snowballed into more and larger grievances about the imminent World Cup and the costs associated with the tournament.

Massive public investment in preparation for the World Cup has irked the Brazilian public, who has witnessed a slowdown in the Brazilian economy and prefers the public money to be channeled into other priorities like health care and education, according to the Telegraph.

The “FIFA Go Home” and “There Won’t Be a World Cup” banners on show last summer weren’t as damning as the massive drop in public support for the tournament. In November 2008, almost 80 percent of the public were reportedly in favor of the World Cup. In March 2013, it had fallen to just 50 percent.

And the public worries are legitimate.

There have long been debates on the actual merits and sustainable benefits to hosting international sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup due to the financial burden they put on the host countries, and we only have to look at South Africa to see the repercussions and strain that football’s premier tournament can put on a country.

According to the Guardian, the government spent £687 million in new and refurbished stadiums (10 in total) for the World Cup. Since the tournament ended, several struggled for continuous use—much like Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium after the 2008 Olympics—and required continuing subsidies from hard-pressed local authorities.

A South African government report has said that the month-long tournament cost the country more than £2 billion, while FIFA earned £2.2 billion and came away with a handsome £394 million profit. Several of their stadiums have since been branded white elephants, an accusation that has since been leveled at Brazil’s own construction efforts, according to another Guardian report.

So all this talk of a legacy off the pitch, as FIFA and organizing bodies often claim World Cups can leave, could very well be seen by the public as pure rhetoric and a lofty dream as they end up bearing the economic brunt.

Which will put an even bigger burden on the shoulders of the Selecaostars.

A record sixth World Cup success on home soil would bring joy to their legions of loyal fans, but in the end, might just serve to placate the growing unrest across the nation.

Now imagine if they didn’t win.

Luiz Felipe Scolari still has plenty of work to do yet.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League, and occasionally on football business.

Why Stadiums Are Increasingly Crucial to Football Clubs’ Commercial Strategies

The Santiago Bernabeu revamp, the Etihad Stadium and the Anfield regeneration—it’s been a busy few weeks for high-profile stadium projects for high-profile football clubs.

From rebranding, modernization to capacity increases, stadium refurbishments and new stadium projects are becoming headline hitters for the amount of money they involve and the scale of commercial ambition they suggest.

The three examples above are some of the biggest news involving football stadia in recent weeks, but are by no means isolated cases: A big part of the discussions involving New York City FC and David Beckham’s fellow new Major League Soccer venture in Miami also revolve around the kind of venue and arena they select and subsequently develop.

It’s not just about Real Madrid, Manchester City and Liverpool: A look across the top clubs in Europe shows that besides stadium capacity and modern architecture, stadium experience also matters to fans and, increasingly, football clubs.

We’ve always known that the live experience of a football match inside a stadium is a defining part of being a football fan, and one of the key factors that continue to pull in match-day revenue despite rising ticket prices, especially in the Premier League.

But now we’re seeing that football stadia are increasingly crucial to the commercial strategies of football clubs for a variety of different reasons. Let’s explore some of them with a few brief case studies.

Matt Dunham/Associated PressCorporate Sponsorships: Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium

The first example that comes to mind is Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.

Known as the “Home of Football” previously, Highbury was famous for its small pitch and the proximity of the pitch to the stands, and thus for its atmosphere.

While its peak capacity was in excess of 70,000, Highbury had to be reworked due to the Taylor report on the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which recommended that football stadia in England become all-seaters. For the majority of the Premier League era, Highbury was known for being one of the most compact stadia for a top football club: They only seated around 38,000 fans every week.

Naturally, this posed problems for the Gunners, especially as they were building their fanbase and were looking to challenge Manchester United on the domestic front. While Arsenal were scraping by with gate receipts from 38,000 fans a week, Old Trafford had expanded to 55,000 seats by 1996, which meant a corresponding increase of matchday revenue for United.

With Arsenal’s decision to move into a new stadium at Ashburton Grove, so they leapt forward into the 21st century and fully embraced any corporate sponsorship and strategic partnerships as they came forward.

Not only did they start fully adopting a transfer policy of buying young and cheap and selling high to maximize financial return—helped by the astute Arsene Wenger, who holds a degree in economics—but they also explored commercial initiatives to alleviate a significant potential burden in financing their new stadium.

Granada Media took a 5 percent stake in the club by investing £47 million, as reported by the Guardian, while Nike signed a new shirt sponsorship deal with Arsenal for a reported £130 million, according to the BBC. (Puma have since replaced Nike as kit makers in a lucrative deal announced this January by the BBC.)

In 2004, Arsenal added to their coffers with a £100 million naming rights deal with Emirates Airlines, which at the time was reportedly “by far the biggest deal ever undertaken in English football,” according to the BBC.

Out of the total £390 million that the Emirates Stadium cost, three major sponsorships footed at least £277 million, and in January last year, Arsene Wenger publicly stated that Arsenal had finally finished paying off their loans for their new stadium and would be ready to finance big-name signings, as reported by the Daily Mail. He stayed true to his word by smashing the Gunners’ transfer record with the deadline-day signing of Mesut Ozil.

As seen from their stadium move, Arsenal transitioned into the corporate age of football and became a commercial giant in the process. With their existing deals set to end and new, lucrative partnerships about to kick in, the Gunners may finally realize their full potential on the pitch with their advances off the pitch. The Emirates Stadium provided a platform and opportunity for Arsenal to become a modern, commercial organization.

Jan Pitman/Getty ImagesTournaments and International Prestige: Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena

This January, Bayern Munich revealed plans to increase its Allianz Arena home stadium from its current capacity of 71,137 to 75,000, as reported by ESPNFC.

The expansion plans will only boost Bayern up the stadium capacity ranks in Germany by one position, above Hertha Berlin’s Olympiastadium and behind Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, but Bayern’s ambitions, as we saw from their summer appointment of Pep Guardiola to take over from treble-winning Jupp Heynckes, aren’t limited to domestic triumph.

Consider the stadium’s use planned from the get-go: Since opening in 2005 with one of the most widely recognized exterior stadium designs in world football, it has been the home stadium of both of Munich’s professional football clubs, Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munchen, as well as a frequent host of the German national team.

Then there are the finances. In this 2013 article by the Economist, Bayern’s total revenue in 2012 was the fourth highest in the world, after Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United. The nearest challenger from within Germany was Borussia Dortmund with €189.1 million, about half of Bayern’s €368.4 million.

Yes: The same Borussia Dortmund who finished second to Bayern in both the Champions League and the Bundesliga in 2013 had just half the total revenue of Bayern.

Having conquered home soil, Bayern are going after world domination, and with a new stadium, they can place themselves at the forefront of German football—if they weren’t there already.

They have 2020 in their sights. Named as Germany’s candidate city for the 2020 European Championships, which will be taking place across European cities, Munich will be bidding for “Package A,” which includes three group-stage matches and one last-16 or quarterfinal fixture, and “Package B,” which includes both semifinals and the final.

The problem at the moment is that UEFA’s requirements are that stadia must meet 70,000 seats to qualify to host matches in the tournament: As Allianz Arena’s capacity is reduced to 67,812 for international games and UEFA competitions, it currently falls just shy.

Of course, there’s no stadium expansion or corporate super-club that doesn’t have its fair share of commercial deals and strategic alliances: The Economist article quoted above has plenty of coverage of Bayern’s considerable financial might as a result of their sponsorship deals, all the while operating in the Bundesliga context that mandates not more than 49 percent of football clubs can be owned by corporations.

Denis Doyle/Getty ImagesThe Next Level: Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu

For around just £60 million (lower than what Cristiano Ronaldo cost) less than what Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium cost to build, Real Madrid are redeveloping their iconic Santiago Bernabeu stadium for a whopping £328 million (€400 million).

According to the Guardian, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez didn’t mince any words in his proclamations for his club’s goals: “It’s time to face another challenge; we want to make the Santiago Bernabeu the best stadium in the world.”

Currently seating 81,044, the Bernabeu is already one of the biggest in world football, but with the planned redevelopments, according to Marca, it will become the third-largest five-star stadium in the world with 93,000 seats, behind Barcelona’s Camp Nou and the Azteca Stadium.

But it’s not purely about capacity expansion: A quick look at the mockups shown by the Mirror shows the sheer scale of Los Blancos’ ambitions. They will be building an entirely new exterior and adding a retractable roof, in addition to expanding the lucrative VIP areas and corporate box offerings like those at the new Wembley, which Marcasay generate at least €10 million a year alone.

As ever with football stadia these days, the Mirror claim that Real Madrid are looking to negotiate a lucrative naming rights partnership, with Microsoft and Coca-Cola as strong contenders to land a potentially record-breaking deal.

In a league where Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate television revenues due to a lopsided arrangement that earn them about 6.5 times the smallest team in La Liga, according to Bloomberg, despite an impending law that is expected to reduce this inequity, the dominance of Madrid will continue to hold when their redeveloped stadium opens for use.

The politics and implications of reducing the financial duopoly of theel Clasico teams are best left for another article to dissect, but while Madrid may not be able to recoup their eye-watering TV revenues in the short to medium term, their new stadium may provide a very comfortable cushion.

Not that Barcelona will be left behind, though. They’ve already put their own stadium expansion proposal to a vote this April: The upgraded Camp Nou would seat 105,000 fans, surpassing the Azteca Stadium’s capacity and becoming the biggest football stadium in the world. It would cost a whopping €600 million, according to ESPNFC.

The duopoly goes on.

Sharon Latham/Associated PressA Footballing Empire: Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium

Football clubs don’t seem to be content on just winning on the pitch anymore. Our last case study will be on Manchester City, who have caught the eye not just with their achievements in the Premier League and their star-studded squad, but also with their remarkable expansions across the globe.

Their entry into Major League Soccer with New York City FC has already been well-publicized and much anticipated, and just this January they extended their already considerable footballing might into Australia with their acquisition of the A-League’s Melbourne Heart, as reported by the Guardian.

With their tentacles spreading across the globe, City are well and truly building a footballing empire, and right at the middle of this are a few architectural projects back in Manchester.

If Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have all capitalized on their existing fanbases and historical success and catapulted into the 21st-century super-club, Manchester City have broken emphatically into that category in just a few years.

According to the Manchester Evening News, City’s commercial deals in 2012 helped them to increase revenue by 51 percent to become the seventh highest-earning club in the world, behind Arsenal, Chelsea and the aforementioned big three.

Besides City’s well-regarded social media campaigns and money-spinning world tours, they are also going ahead with plans to increase the capacity of their Etihad Stadium from 48,000 to 62,000, which would make it the second-largest stadium in the English top flight and take them into the realm of the European footballing elite.

And just like Florentino Perez of Real Madrid, City’s power brokers have been vocal in their ambitions for their team: Chief operating officer Tom Glick claimed that Manchester would have two of the top-five clubs in terms of worldwide revenues by the end of 2014.

If, as reported by the BBC, the Etihad expansion will be completed by the 2015-2016 season, then City will have with them a mighty financial arsenal in just a couple of seasons’ time. A far cry from its initial capacity of 38,000, and a development fit for an empire.

By that time, however, they might have a new competitor to deal with: Liverpool, who have continued to be a fixture in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League for the past few years, despite being the only club there without Champions League football, look ready to return to the European big time.

And, according to the Telegraph, they are planning to submit their own redevelopment proposals for Anfield by the end of the 2013/14 season.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

The Football Business Column: The Business and Politics Behind the 2022 Qatar World Cup Controversies

“It may well be that we made a mistake at the time.”

Given the fresh controversy surrounding the death of migrant workers on the building sites for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Sepp Blatter’s public admission in early September to Inside World Football (h/t ESPN) seems all the more pertinent. If only he’d thought of such implications and possibilities before actually approving the final decision.

No matter. What’s happened has already happened, but FIFA are now left to pick up the considerable refuse that has been generated in the wake of the significant recent fallout over the decision to award the tiny Middle Eastern emirate the hosting rights of the world’s most prestigious single-sport tournament. The problems are rooted in politics, as they were always going to be given the universality of the world’s most popular sport, and the international involvement in and exposure to the game.

Surely more background digging should’ve been conducted prior to the bid, and surely more scrutiny should’ve been paid to the implementation process by FIFA and the Qatari authorities, to avoid any potential banana skin in their grand ambitious plan to bring the tournament to new and exotic places on the planet.

Simply put, the migrant worker situation should’ve been researched and taken into consideration in the bid process. It might have been a bit too political to go into the human rights records and agendas of host countries, but it’s FIFA, it’s the World Cup and it’s all about politics anyway.

David Cannon/Getty Images

The Politics

“The World Cup and foreign labor abuse in host countries” sounds exactly like the kind of problem that should never have been inflicted on FIFA in the first place, such is the emphasis given to the separation of football from politics and anything of the sort. Sadly, this was always going to be tough.

Especially with, in Blatter’s words, football being “a global unifying force for the good, a force that offers to be inclusive in every which way and a force that has written anti-discrimination on its banner under my presidency.” Especially with FIFA’s goal to bring the World Cup to places that haven’t hosted it before—South Africa, Brazil, Russia and now Qatar (representing the Middle East); the likes of Australia and China are surely not far behind.

It’s in this context that Blatter’s admission to German newspaper Die Zeit (h/t The Guardian)—“European leaders recommended to its voting members to opt for Qatar, because of major economic interests in this country”—appears particularly worrying. Not only this: UEFA president Michel Platini has one-upped Blatter and suggested to the Associated Press (h/t The Washington Post) that this sort of political influence was commonplace in international tournaments: “With the extraordinary influence Mr. Blatter has, he has only all of a sudden realized there are political and economic influences when we decide who will host an Olympic Games and so forth?”

A public spat that not only casts a pessimistic, cynical light over proceedings, but one that should be avoided in the first place. Not even Platini’s insistence that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t personally ask him to vote for Qatar despite Sarkozy’s political support will clear anything up.

And it’s led to Qatar’s FIFA 2022 World Cup Organizing Committee secretary-general Hassan Al Thawadi defending his country’s bid and its legality. There will be lots of questions thrown his way; he’d better get used to fighting the fire.

Handout/Getty Images

The Scheduling

Possibly the biggest question of all when the subject of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is brought up is this: Will it be held in the summer or will it be moved to the winter?

The first thing that comes to mind when we consider a winter World Cup is: What happens to all the leagues that run throughout the year except during the summer? It just so happens that those are the European leagues that have the most worldwide interest, the highest-profile players and the best quality and competition. Just a simple statement from the EPFL, the umbrella body of the major European leagues, will have FIFA scrambling.

The potential problems brought about by disrupting the league calendar are quite significant. It’s not just about asking those leagues to move their domestic calendars for just a season. It’s not just about the feasibility of working out a schedule that also fits in with the Winter Olympics. And it’s not just about moving a four-week tournament, as they’re finally starting to find out, and FIFA will have all kinds of oppositions, protestations and storms to weather in the coming weeks and months (hopefully not years).

Speaking of the weather, never mind the considerations that FIFA should have made regarding the scheduling due to the summer temperatures in Qatar even during the bidding process; now that the question of whether Qatar should host the World Cup at all is being asked again, even the chairman of FIFA’s medical committee has come out in public opposition.

Michel D’Hooghe has gone on record questioning the prospect of holding the tournament in the summer from a medical perspective and has included aspects other than players training and competing in scorching temperatures while he was at it: He mentioned the delegates, the “FIFA family,” the media and would you know it, the fans as well. A FIFA executive keeping the fans in mind?

Another perspective also had the fans’ interests in mind, or so it claimed. This time it was the Australian Football Federation, who lost its original bid for the 2022 World Cup, who has asked for compensation in the event that FIFA do move the tournament to the winter, just because it feels like it’s entitled to “just and fair” compensation to “those nations that invested many millions, and national prestige, in bidding for a summer event.”

The FFA did give some context, acknowledging the place football has in Australia by citing the fact that the A-League runs through the Australian summer (winter in the northern hemisphere) because high-quality stadiums Down Under aren’t as accessible during the rest of the year. FFA chairman Frank Lowy claimed that “clubs, investors, broadcasters, players and fans would all be affected,” which is a valid argument and observation.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The TV Money

Just in case we were getting carried away with the seemingly alien notion that football authorities actually care about the common fan, there are other high-profile cases that shoot us right back down.

Fox Sports, a division of the US television network Fox, have made public theiropposition to any potential switch of the tournament to the winter (h/t Nick Harris of the Daily Mail), simply because “Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”

In this case, it’s about the finance and economics of broadcasting such an event, which, when the numbers involved come to light, are hardly a small matter. FIFA earned a whopping $1.1 billion for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; Fox paid around $450 million, while NBC Universal’s Telemundo division bought the Spanish-language rights for $600 million.

And these are US networks that have acknowledged the rise in interest in the “beautiful” game (in quotes for obvious reasons considering the topic of this article) by shelling out for the English Premier League this season, but that are also cautious about having football competing for high-profile prime-time spots alongside the traditional big American sports during the regular American season.

Such is the importance and influence of broadcasters that Ben Rumsby of The Daily Telegraph reports FIFA have allegedly held secret meetings with them in an attempt to “quell opposition to any move,” which all but shows that FIFA are the mercy of their own money-making engines.

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

The Disillusion

The debate and fevered discussion will no doubt continue for a while yet over the staging of the World Cup—and indeed if it will still be held in Qatar at all—but one thing’s for sure: Given the amount of money and politics involved in the game now, surely these were things that FIFA should’ve considered before awarding the hosting rights to Qatar?

If there had been a clear plan and clear communication during the process—even accounting for the widespread unwillingness to change across footballing authorities and TV networks (understandable, considering the financial implications)—perhaps right now, instead of clashing over it all, everyone would be celebrating that the World Cup Finals are finally arriving in the Middle East.

A disappointing chapter in the history of arguably the world’s most inclusive and socially impactful sport, and an undoubted tarnishing of FIFA’s slogan: “For the game, for the world.” Plenty of work to do still.

This piece originally appeared on Bleacher Report and is also part of my Football Business Column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.

The Football Business Column: The Money that Goes to Agents, Technology and Stadiums

football agents

The Money that goes to Agents

We can’t go anywhere in football without hearing about the money side of the game, such is the prevalence of commerce, sponsorships and brand partnerships, and the importance of financial might and ambition. So when it was announced this summer that the Premier League spent a record £630 million in the transfer window, no one really batted an eye.

It couldn’t have come as a big surprise though, given the enormous TV deals that were secured by the Premier League with broadcasters Sky and BT Sport. After all, the number of big signings and the amount of big money being flown around this summer—not least that mind-boggling world record deal for Gareth Bale—showed that money has become less and less of an object to Premier League clubs. (Crystal Palace paid £8.5 million for a League One player, Dwight Gayle from Peterborough.) It turns out, though, that it’s not just the Premier League, and it’s not just the signing fees.

As we saw from the Neymar megadeal to Barcelona, there are (too) many parties involved in a transfer deal. There are “investors”, “stakeholders”, agreements to play friendlies, first-option commitments and, of course, agents. And when your dad happens to be your agent and you happen to be Neymar, your family can suddenly become €40 million richer.

But it’s not just in conjunction with the biggest names in football that agent fees are considerable. The Football League released a report last week on agent fees at the Championship, League One and League Two levels, and the results were quite staggering. In the 2012/13 Championship season, 23 clubs (Blackpool excepted) paid a total of over £18.5 million in agent fees for 431 agent-involved deals, meaning that, on average, each club spent over £800,000 in payments to agents and each deal cost £43,000.

And that’s just at the Championship level. We await (dread) the official numbers affiliated with the Premier League for more discussion (depression). We haven’t even asked the all-important question yet: Are agents even worth it? (Blackburn Rovers spent over £3.5 million in agent fees—which is more than enough for a quality Championship-level player—and ended the season closer to relegation.)

The Money that goes to Technology

When we talk about money in the Premier League, the topic inevitably focuses on the lack of it spent on youth development and as such the promotion of homegrown talent, which adversely affects the performance of the English national team. And we all know the history of underachievement of said English national team in international tournaments, specifically in penalty shootouts, quite unlike their Premier League counterparts.

Fear not: Money can also be a solution there! Need to provide players with a simulated match environment? With a realistic atmosphere like a World Cup Finals penalty shootout? No problem. Engineering company BAE Systems are currently working with UK Sport, “the UK’s high performance sports agency,” to produce virtual reality simulators for Olympians and Paralympians to better prepare them for real-life tournament scenarios, and according to this Guardian report, this technology could be on its way to football as well.

And why not? Given the amount of money devoted to the mental and physical side of football these days—there’s also the sports science side, which has led to the spawning of many a sports science department at major football clubs, as well as the data analysis side—it’s only natural to see money being thrown at technology that can give teams and players that slight extra chance of success.

But is it really that smooth-sailing? Will virtual reality be able to compare to a real-world penalty shootout environment where everything is at stake? Unless BAE add a feature that projects a virtual reality of burning effigies in the penalty takers’ minds, it might not be enough…

The Money that goes to Stadiums

As ever, England isn’t the only country with huge financial burdens in football. Let’s cross the Atlantic for a moment and look at Major League Soccer, where DC United’s proposed new stadium has attracted criticism for its fee.

$300 million is the sum in question for the Buzzard Point, Washington DC location, and while there are obvious benefits to fans of the club and league, the mooted amount has been met with significant criticism from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, who will have had the current economic climate in mind.

It’s not only in the US where public spending on stadiums have attracted scorn. The 2013 Confederations Cup this summer was marred by public rioting and protesting in Brazil throughout the tournament, against the Brazilian government’s extravagant expenditure on stadiums for next summer’s World Cup and 2016’s Olympics. A total of almost $17 billion is estimated to be spent in conjunction with these two events, and well, there could be a variety of things that this money could be used on otherwise.

But even that is a drop in the ocean compared to Qatar (or should that be a grain of sand in the desert?), who will be spending a whopping £134 billion on their controversial 2022 World Cup tournament, the Middle East’s first ever. How’s that for stadium spending?

 

This piece was part of my new biweekly column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.